New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the value of exports fell by 10% in February of this year compared to the same time last year.

The CSO said that the value of exports decreased by €753m to €6.646 billion on the back of a 15% fall in medical and pharmaceutical product exports and an 18% decrease in organic chemical exports.

The value of imports also fell in February, dropping back by 2% with imports of petroleum and petroleum products decreasing by 21%.

Today's figures show that the EU accounted for 58% of total exports in February, while the US was the main non-EU destination and accounted for 22% of the country's total exports.

The CSO said that the figures for February show a seasonally adjusted increase in exports of 2.2% to just over €7 billion from January, while imports fell by 2% to €3.876 billion.

This resulted in an 8% rise in the seasonally adjusted trade surplus to €3.128 billion - better than had been expected.

Merrion economist Alan McQuaid noted that the export sector has been the main driver of Irish economic activity in recent times and will remain the key growth engine for some period to come. But he warned that there are clear downside risks in the short-term, especially in relation to external demand, as well as the strength of the euro versus sterling.

''Another concern relates to the sustainability of the positive contribution from the chemicals sector. Output from this area tends to be quite erratic at the best of times due to company-specific developments in patents and product cycles. Indeed, industrial production data for the last few months suggest that the expiry of patents in certain pharmaceutical products is now impacting negatively on output,'' he added.